By Paul Koch –
For most of us, the use of a veil is something that we only remember from our wedding day. But the practice of a bride wearing a veil even seems to be falling out of favor these days. Out of all the weddings I’ve done in my career I can only remember a few that still used the traditional bridal veil. Perhaps it has lost of any significant meaning attached to it. Most view the use of a veil as a symbol of purity and innocence; so as a bride enters the sanctuary to be presented before the Lord and to her bridegroom, it is fitting that she is veiled. Others see the veil as a remembrance of Christ and the Church. Still others recall it as an ancient ritual from the days of arraigned marriages where the beauty of the bride was completely hidden until the vows were made. But in the end, the purpose of the veil is easy to deduce. A veil is used to hide something.
It makes sense, then, that in the Temple the curtain that separated and hid the Holy of Holies from the rest of the structure was called a veil. Its purpose was to hide such a sacred space from those who were unworthy of even looking inside. It was there that the glory of God descended upon His people. But long before there was a Temple in Jerusalem, there was a tabernacle in the wilderness after which the Temple was modeled. Before there was a tabernacle, there was just good old Moses up on the mountain talking with God. And when he came down from there his face shone with the glory of the Almighty. It was such a troubling thing that the people asked him to wear a veil. They wanted Moses to hide his face. It was a reminder of the God on the mountain, the God who decimated the Egyptians, the God who could part the Red Sea and appear as a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night. Moses and his veil become an image of God’s work in the midst of his people.
Imagine what that would be like. Imagine going out one day with your friends to have a little fun in camp. You’re laughing and having a good time. You tell a few inappropriate jokes. Maybe you talk about the cute girls down by the well. As soon as you turn around there he is: Moses, face covered and forehead shinning. There he goes walking by your group of friends. He doesn’t say a word but you can feel the judgment that you deserve. You know, after all, what God has commanded. You know that you have not kept his commands. You know of his wrath and so your laughter comes to an end. Hiding in the veil is not just a man named Moses but the condemning judgment of God. His veil becomes a symbol of something more.
God comes to his people veiled in His commands, in His decrees and statutes. The Almighty hides there in a way that we might receive him in our midst. We are comfortable with the veil. Like the ancient Israelites, we too desire the veil of God’s Law. This blessed veil gives structure and focus to our lives. We know how we ought to act, and what is right and what is wrong. It separates the sacred from the profane. It allows us to mark our progress and establish our own form of governance.
We love the gift of the Law. We love its power to control and to shame and to guide. But God, as he comes to us veiled in the Law, does not come to save. The Law, for all its promises, for all its instruction and guiding, cannot free us from our sin. The Law declares only that you obey, that you follow, and that you try harder. And when you shout out, “I can’t do it!” the Law says, “I don’t care. You are still guilty.” In the end, the Law cannot give the perfection it demands. It cannot create it in you or give you the ability. And so we grow timid and fearful every time the veiled face of Moses passes through our camp.
But the veil, the hiddenness of our Father’s presence, doesn’t stay with Moses. No; for Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on a high mountain. This is the type of mountain where Moses would have come down with a shining face. Here it isn’t Moses whose face shines, but Christ our Lord. He is transfigured and shinning like lightening before them. In fact, Moses arrives beside our Lord like some sort of attendant to him. Our Lord is flanked by Moses on one side and Elijah on the other. And then, as if that wasn’t enough, the glory of the Father descends upon the mountain as a cloud envelopes them and they hear the voice of God declare, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
Christ is the one who fulfills the Law. Christ is the one who embraces our transgressions as his own. We are directed by the Father not to the veil of Moses, but to the words of His Son. “Listen to him,” He says; listen and hear him as he speaks of your sin. As he declares that he knows that you have failed, you have fallen, you deserve wrath for what you have done. Then listen to him as he declares that your sins are his own. Listen as he who knew no sin becomes sin itself so that you might be set free. The light of the glory that shone in the Law handed down by Moses is dimmed by the radiant light of the Son who sets us free by his life, death and resurrection. Remember that as he died for your sins, the veil in the temple tore from top to bottom, and hope filled all God’s children.
So, St. Paul can dare to say, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.” (2 Cor. 3:12-13) No, the veil has been removed. The tyranny of the Law has been broken in Christ. To a fallen race that is bound in their sin, the Law could only break down and destroy. But now there is the greater light of Christ. In this light, this gospel, this proclamation of hope and salvation, we are bold. In Christ there is life: life for each and every one of you.
Now to be sure, the freedom offered in the Gospel can be a scary thing. In as much as it gives hope, it also robs us of control. To set people free is a dangerous thing. How can we be sure they will play by the rules? How can we be sure if they will continue to support our agenda? Free people might mean that they stop giving and volunteering and working as hard as they have been. To set people free means that they might not do as God commands. And so the constant temptation is to bring back the veil, or to establish again the Law that Christ has already declared us free from. Maybe we won’t bring back all of it; maybe just a bit here or there. Maybe we can spruce it up just enough to keep everyone in line and get the results we desire.
But no. That is not what we have been called to; not according to St. Paul. He declares, “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.” (2 Cor. 4:5) We dare not take up again what the Lord has already removed. We are to make the bold stand, to speak the daring words of forgiveness, to set the captives free. All other options are off the table. There is only Christ as the hope of eternal life. The promise of eternal life is what we have been called to proclaim.
You have been forgiven so that you might forgive. You have been free from the bondage of sin so that you might lose the chains of those still bound. Or as St. Paul said, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)